Attraction & Formation of Relationships

Everything necessary for an essay on the formation of relationships.


What is proximity?

Proximity is physical closeness. It is often described as 'the single best predictor of attraction'. Where we live, school and work influences the friends we make and the romantic relationships we have.

Write this in your essay:

Humans are social animals. Proximity leads to interaction, or exposure, which leads to familiarity.

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Festinger (1950)


With whom are students who live on campus at Westgate West, MIT, best friends after their first semester?

Next door neighbours were best friends: 41%
Two doors down were best friends: 22%
Opposite ends of the hallway: 10%

But... people can now develop successful relationships over the Internet, without ever meeting the person. This study has low temporal validity, so the findings are less applicable today.

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The Mere Exposure Effect (Zajonc, 1968)

The more you are exposed to something, the more you like it.

Therefore, if proximity leads to familiarity when we are exposed to something, we are going to like it.

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Moreland and Beach (1992)


Four classes over one semester.

'Attractive' female confederate was added to a class no times, once, ten times or fifteen times.

Ps rated her attractiveness and likeability at the end of the semester. The more Ps saw her, the more they liked her.

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Reward and Need for Satisfaction

This is another theory. It says that we form relationships if there is a reward in it for us.

This is a behaviourist theory and it incorporates both classical and operant conditioning.

In your essay, point out that:

It's environmentally determinist (IAD).
It takes the nurture side of the debate (IAD).
It takes a negative view of humanity, assuming that we form relationships based on our own selfish desires.

Remember to ask so what? Why do any of the above matter?

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Indirect Rewards

This is classical conditioning; learning by association.

This suggests that we like people who are nearby when we feel good. Regardless of whether they are involved with our good feeling, we associate them with it such that whenever we see them, we feel good.

An example of this would be holiday romances. So this theory is strong because it has a real-world application.

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Veitch and Griffit (1976)


Ps were placed in a waiting room where they listened to either good or bad news with a stranger present.

When they rated the stranger it was found that the degree of liking was related to the kind of news they listened to.


The Ps only 'liked' the confederate more; there was no relationship there.

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May and Hamilton (1980)


Ps rated pictures of male strangers listening to positive, negative or neutral music. They liked the man more when they listened to 'positive' music.


This is subject to researcher bias, as it was May and Hamilton who defined 'positive' music.

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Direct Rewards

This is operant conditioning. We like people who are friendly towards us, who smile and who are generally positive.

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Argyle (1994)


Try remembering these using the mnemonic BADDASS (just remember to spell it wrong). You don't have to know them all, but remember to give an example of the ones you do use.

Biological - satisfied through eating and drinking.
Affiliation - seeking comfort or approval
Dependency - being nurtured
Dominance - social order
Aggression - fighting/arguing
Sex - um... through sex.
Self-esteem - being valued.

Relationships allegedly meet these needs.

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Schachter (1959)


These were a set of experiments designed to show that when confronted with stress, Ps would seek out social support.

Ps believed they would either be subject to painful electric shocks or mild ones and were given the choice of waiting alone or with someone.

The greater the anticipated pain, the greater the tendency for human companionship.

Other research where Schachter tested how long people could go without human contact found significant individual differences. One person left after twenty minutes; another lasted eight days!

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There is a lot of evidence to support this theory, which means that it probably has some founding in truth.
It also has face validity in that it makes sense (but this is a weak evaluation).


Religious people do not form relationships based on sex; they often wait until after marriage.
Arranged marriages are often more successful than those married for love and they are not based on any sort of rewards for those involved.
Beta bias (IAD) - women are generally more attentive.

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The Matching Hypothesis

It would be easy to assume that if physical attractiveness were the key to attraction, then only the best-looking people would be in a relationship. However, the matching hypothesis states that we are attracted to those who match us in terms of physical attractiveness.

This is probably because of a fear of rejection.

Moreover, the matching hypothesis says that physical attractiveness can be matched with other factors, such as intelligence, that make up for the lack of beauty. An example of this would be Marilyn Monroe and Arthur Miller.

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Walster et al (1966): The Computer Dance


752 students were rated on physical attractiveness by four independent judges.

Ps filled in a questionnaire, supposedly to be paired in terms of similarity by a computer.

However, Ps were actually paired randomly. They then went on a date to a dance with their partner and then asked to complete another questionnaire about their date experience, and whether they would go out again.

The most attractive students were favoured and physical attractiveness was more important than intelligence and personality.

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Walster and Walster (1969)


A follow-up of the original study, only Ps could meet beforehand.

Students most liked those of similar attractiveness.

This study is more ecologically valid than the previous, as mostly people have the chance to meet their dates in advance.

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Murstein (1972)


Judges rated photos of each partner in 99 couples for physical attractiveness, without knowing who was paired with whom.

They were then re-arranged and placed back with their partners and analysed using Spearman's Rho. There was a significant positive correlation between attractiveness and the pairs.


This is not a cause and effect relationship, so not only is this unscientific (IAD), but there may be an outlying factor affecting this correltation.

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There are large individual differences in how important physical attractiveness is. Towhey (1979) found that those who scored high on the Macho Scale were much more influenced by physical attractiveness.

It has been argued that it is only important during the onset of a relationship.

However, Murstein and Christy (1976) found that married couples were much more similar in terms of attractiveness than those who were dating.

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The Halo Effect

This also refers to attractiveness, although it suggests that we are more likely to form a relationship with more attractive people as we associate attractiveness with other positive traits.

Hollywood stars demonstrate this, as we often assume that they are perfect simply because they are good looking, until evidence comes across to the contrary. Politicians also try to seem nice and attractive in an attempt to make us think that their policies are brilliant.

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Nisbett and Wilson (1972)


How do students judge their lecturers?

Ps were placed into two groups. One group watched a video of a lecturer with a strong Belgian accent answering questions in an extremely warm and friendly manner. The other group watched the same lecturer answer the same questions in a cold and distant manner.

Ps then rated the lecturer on physical appearance, mannerisms and the accent. Consistent with the halo effect, Ps who saw the 'warm' incarnation found him more attractive.

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This explanation is culturally biased (IAD); studies are usually performed in America. This is a problem as it minimises its generalisability and in turn, its external validity.

Attractiveness is also very subjective, which lowers this explanation's empiricism and its scientific value (IAD).

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